There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy
(Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus]
it was immediately following Morse's almost unprecedentedly alcohol-free lunch (cheese sandwich and coffee) that the crucial break in the case occurred. And it was Lewis's good fortune to convey the tidings to the canteen, where Morse sat reading the Daily Mirror.
When earlier in the week Morse had argued that a car would have been required, that a car would have been essential, that a car would have to be disposed of- when earlier Morse had argued these points, the firing plugs in Lewis's practical mind had sputtered into life: cars lost, cars stolen, cars vandalized, cars burned, cars abandoned, cars found on the streets, cars towed away – Lewis had straightway gauged the possibilities; and drawing a vaguely twenty-mile radius round Oxford, after consultation with the Traffic Unit, he had been able to set in motion a programme of fairly simple checks, with attention focused on the few days following the very last sighting of Karin Eriksson.
The key evidence would have been difficult to miss, really, once the dates were specified, since Lt. Col. Basil Villiers, MC, had rung the police on no less than twelve occasions during the period concerned, complaining that the car found abandoned and vandalized, and thereafter further vandalized and finally fired, was a blot on the beautiful landscape – a disgrace, an eyesore, and an ugliness; that he (the aforesaid Colonel) had not fought against despotism, dictatorship, totalitarianism, and tyranny to be fobbed off with petty excuses concerning insurance, liability, obligation, and availability of personnel. But it had only been after considerable difficulty (number plates now gone, though registration markings still on the windows) that the owner of the vehicle had been traced, and the offending 'eyesore' towed away from the neighbourhood of the Colonel's bungalow to some vehicular Valhalla – with a coloured photograph the only memento now of what once had been a newborn, sleek, and shining offspring of some Japanese assembly line.
The keying-in of the registration number now (as presumably a year earlier?) had produced, within a few seconds, the name and address of the owner: James Myton, of 24 Hickson Drive, Baling; or rather formerly of 24 Hickson Drive, Baling, since immediate enquiries at this address had confirmed only that James Myton had not lived there for more than a year! Swansea DVLC had sent three letters to the said address, but without reply. LMJ 5946 was a lapsed registration, though still not deleted, it appeared, from the official records kept in South Wales.
As for Myton himself, his name had appeared on Scotland Yard's missing-persons list for the second half of 1991. But in that year over 30,000 persons were registered as 'missing' in London alone; and a recent report, wholly backed by Sir Peter Imbert himself, suggested that the index was becoming so inaccurate that it should be restarted from scratch, with a completely fresh re-check on each of the legion names listed. As Morse saw things though, it was going to take considerably more than a 're-check' to revive any hopes of the missing Mr James Myton ever being found alive again.
By mid-afternoon there was firm corroboration from Baling that the body found in Pasticks was that of James William Myton, who as a boy had first been taken 'into care' by the local authority; later looked after by an ageing couple (now deceased) in Brighton; and thereafter supervised for a time by HM Borstal Service on the Isle of Wight. But the young man had always shown a bit of practical talent; and in 1989, aged twenty-six, he had emerged into the outside world with a reputation for adequate competence in carpentry, interior design, and photography. For eighteen months he had worked in the TV studios at Bristol. A physical description from a woman living two doors away from him in Ealing suggested 'a weakish sort of mouth in which the lower teeth were set small and evenly spaced, like the crenellations of a young boy's toy-fort'.
'She should have been a novelist!' said Morse.
'She is a novelist,' said Lewis.
At all events Myton was not now to be found; and unlikely to be found. Frequently in the past he had been a man of no permanent address; but in the present Morse was sure that he was a permanent dweller in the abode of the dead – as the lady novelist might have phrased it in one of her purplier passages.
Yet things were going very well on the whole – going very much as Morse had predicted. And for the rest of the afternoon the case developed quietly: no surprises; no set-backs. At 5.45 p.m. Morse called it a day and drove down to his flat in North Oxford.
For about two hours that afternoon, as on every weekday afternoon, the grossly overweight wife of Luigi Bertolese sat at the receipt of custom in the Prince William Hotel, whilst her husband conducted his daily dealings with Mr Ladbroke, Turf Accountant. The early edition of the Evening Standard lay beside her, and she fixed her pair of half-lenses on to her small nose as she began reading through. At such times she might have reminded some of her paying guests of an owl seated quietly on a branch after a substantial meal – half dopey as the eyelids slowly descended, and then more than commonly wise as they rose… as they rose again now when number 8 came in, after his lunch. And after his drink – by the smell of him.
The photograph was on the front page, bottom left: just a smallish photograph and taken when he'd had a beard, the beard he'd shaved off the day after his arrival at the hotel. Although Maria Bertolese's English was fairly poor, she could easily follow the copy beneath: 'The police are anxious to interview this man, Alasdair McBryde…'
She gave him the room-key, handed over two twenty-pound notes, and nodded briefly to the newspaper.
'I doan wanna no trouble for Luigi. His heart is not good – is bad.'
The man nodded, put one of the twenties in his wallet, and gave her back the other: 'For the breakfast girl, please.'
When Luigi Bertolese returned from the betting shop at four o'clock, number 8, cum luggage, had disappeared.